Although the latest iPhone is always likely to slot neatly into our list of the best smartphones for photographers, the competition at the moment is fiercer than ever.

One of the best models on the market right now is the Xiaomi 14 Ultra, which comes packed with a host of photographic features that are very tempting to those who crave the very best camera on their smartphone. But can it beat the iPhone 15 Pro Max

All signs point to yes during our individual reviews of the two models, but what happens when we put them head to head – let’s find out… 

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Xiaomi 14 Ultra: Camera specs

Both of these flagship models have excellent camera specifications for photographers, but it’s fair to say that – on paper at least – the Xiaomi has a superlative set up thanks to its quadruple 50MP sensors fronted by Leica-branded lenses. 

XIaomi 14 Ultra and iPhone 15 Pro Max cameras side by side. Image: Amy Davies

Not only that, but the main 1x camera (23mm equivalent) has a variable aperture of f/1.6-4 (not something we usually see in smartphones) and also has a large 1-inch type sensor – something we also don’t usually see in smartphones. It is joined by an ultrawide (12mm, f/1.8), and two telephoto lenses (75mm, f/1.8 and 120mm f/2.5). All of the other sensors have a 1/2.5” sensor, while all of the lenses have Leica Summilux branding. 

Meanwhile, the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s cameras look a little more pedestrian by comparison. There are just three cameras, with only one offering high resolution (48MP). This is the 1x – 24mm equivalent – f/1.8 lens. It is joined by two 12MP sensors, one with a 13mm f/2.2 ultrawide lens and one with a 120mm f/2.8 telephoto lens.

The Xiaomi may have the upper hand with four cameras, but the iPhone is still a very capable competitor with three. Image: Amy Davies

Both smartphones have selfie cameras – of course – with the Xiaomi 14 Ultra having a 32MP f/2.0 selfie camera, and the iPhone 15 Pro Max having a 12MP selfie camera. While the Xiaomi 14 Ultra’s is higher resolution, it doesn’t have AF (the iPhone’s does).

So it’s safe to say that here the Xiaomi is the overall winner, but what results will they deliver in real-world shooting…?

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Xiaomi 14 Ultra: Camera apps and shooting modes

As with many other Android models, the Xiaomi 14 Ultra has a much more comprehensive native camera app than the iPhone 15 Pro Max.

Along with a standard shooting mode, there’s an array of special modes. Some are fairly commonly found on most phones, such as “Night” mode for shooting in low light, but there are others which are a bit more unusual. The Portrait mode for example includes the ability to recreate the look of Leica lenses, rather than being a straightforward Portrait mode. It should be noted however that Leica recently introduced an app which allows the same for iPhone, so this is no longer strictly a unique selling point in the comparison. 

Enthusiast photographers may wish to take advantage of the “Pro” mode which gives you a range of different shooting parameters which you can change, such as white balance, ISO, focus mode, shutter speed and if you’re shooting with the 1x lens, aperture. This is also where you can shoot in raw format if you wish.

The native camera app for both the iPhone 15 Pro Max and the Xiaomi 14 Ultra. Image: Amy Davies

By contrast, the iPhone’s native camera app has a little less going on. You still have a Portrait mode and various video options, but other things are missing. There is a Night mode, but it comes on automatically when low light is detected, it’s not something you can select yourself. There is no Pro mode, but there is the option to switch on raw format shooting from the main Photo mode. 

An interesting thing to note here is that as well as the dedicated Photo mode, when the phone detects that you’re photographing a portrait subject (human, dog or cat), then it will automatically save the data needed to convert it into a portrait later on. This has been incredibly useful when quickly photographing such subjects.

With a dedicated Macro shooting mode the Xiaomi performs better. Image: Amy Davies

So do we have a clear-cut winner here? That largely depends on what you’re priorities are. If you really want a Pro mode in your native app, then it’s the Xiaomi that wins, but if you’re happy enough to have a fairly simple app and download a more comprehensive one separately, then the iPhone is still a good shout.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Xiaomi 14 Ultra: General image quality 

Both of these flagship models take great pictures in a range of different conditions. As is usually case for the smartphones, the best results from both are when shooting in good light. 

Xiaomi 14 Ultra sample image, generaliPhone 15 Pro Max sample image, general
Left: The colours from the Xiaomi 14 Ultra are realistic but also nicely vibrant.
Right: The same scene shot with the iPhone 15 Pro Max has a slightly green cast. Image: Amy Davies

In this scene, both look great, but I’d say that the Xiaomi has more pleasing colours, while the iPhone shot has a slightly green cast. The same colour issue can be seen in the ultrawide shot too, although on the plus side at least the colours are matched between lenses. 

Detail is good from both models, though it’s worth pointing out that the standard output from the iPhone is 24MP when using the standard lens, compared to 12MP from the Xiaomi, so there’s a little more potentially for cropping with the iPhone. Exposures are well balanced with both models, with both demonstrating a good blend of highlights and shadows.

Xiaomi 14 Ultra sample image interior, white balanceiPhone 15 Pro Max sample image, white balance
Left: Under artificial light, the Xiaomi tends to “correct” to produce good colours.
Right:The iPhone’s rendering here is a little yellower, but is also closer to what the scene actually looked like. Image: Amy Davies

When there’s artificial lighting present in a scene, both do a pretty good job. Here, the Xiaomi has corrected what the scene actually looked like to produce a pleasing result. The iPhone has kept things more accurate – the light looked yellowish in real life, but it could be argued that therefore the result is slightly less pleasing to look at. 

We’ve got a bit of a tie-break situation here, with both producing excellent images in everyday conditions. It might be easier to pick things apart when looking a bit more closely at specific shooting scenarios.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Xiaomi 14 Ultra: Zoom

With the Xiaomi 14 Ultra, you can shoot with either a 3x or 5x lens if you want to get closer to the subject, while for the iPhone 15 Pro Max, all you get is a single 5x lens. That said, you can also use digital zoom / crops for the iPhone 15 Pro Max to shoot at different (simulated) focal lengths too. 

The Xiaomi’s 5x lens has better specifications than the iPhone’s. It’s got a higher resolution (50MP vs 12MP) and a slightly wider aperture (f/2.5 vs f/2.8). In our sample images, we can see that although the iPhone’s 5x image is pretty good (click to see the iPhone’s 1x lens for comparison), the Xiaomi’s image is better with nicer colour rendition and more detail (also check the Xiaomi’s 3x lens, and the 1x lens for comparison). 

Xiaomi 14 Ultra sample image, 5xiPhone 15 Pro Max sample image, 5x
Left: An image shot with the Xiaomi 14 Ultra’s 5x lens.
Right: The same scene shot with the iPhone 15 Pro Max. Still good, but the Xiaomi’s is better. Image: Amy Davies

Digital zoom is also available beyond 5x for both models. With the iPhone 15 Pro Max, you get a relatively pedestrian maximum reach of 25x, while the Xiaomi has a headline grabbing 120x option. The 25x from the iPhone is just about OK in good light if you are desperate to get closer to the subject, while the Xiaomi’s furthest reach is all but unusable for anything other than trying to sell you a phone. 10x digital zoom from both model produces usable results though, and can be handy in some situations. 

Overall, the zoom performance is better here from the Xiaomi, particularly because you’ve got two lenses to choose from. 3x is more useful in many scenarios, while the 5x lens produces better images than the iPhone’s. 

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Xiaomi 14 Ultra: Low Light

Both of the phones have low light modes, but with the iPhone it’s not something you can manually select. Rather, it engages when it detects there is not much light in the scene. With the Xiaomi it will automatically engage night mode, but you can also select it separately if you desire. I’ve found on occasion, the iPhone refuses to engage low light mode and with no way to switch it on you can be left with a less favourable image. 

Xiaomi 14 Ultra sample image, low lightiPhone 15 Pro Max sample image, ultrawide
Left: An image shot in very low light with the Xiaomi 14 Ultra.
Right: The same scene recorded with the iPhone 15 Pro Max, the colours are more vibrant. Image: Amy Davies

In this scene, the light was very low but neither phone had trouble recognising what was going on. It’s impressive how much detail has been picked up by either device considering to me it felt like almost pitch black. 

Here, the iPhone image is brighter and has more pleasing colours, but the Xiaomi is perhaps a little closer to what the grass would look like in reality during those conditions. When I shot the same scene with the ultrawide lens, the Xiaomi colour was slightly different, which is a shame, but, it had more detail than the iPhone’s ultrawide low light shot. 

When it comes to the zoom lenses, the Xiaomi’s 3x lens creates something usable, but its 5x image is very lacking in detail and not something I’d want to share anywhere. By contrast, while the iPhone’s 5x lens image in low light isn’t perfect, it’s still fairly usable. 

Overall, I’d say that the iPhone just about has the edge here. It produces nicer looking images in very low light, including when using the zoom lens. If shooting in low light is something you do very often, it’s possibly enough to sway you towards it entirely. 

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Xiaomi 14 Ultra: Macro

If you’re into taking close-ups, both phones here have suitable modes to allow for that, and both put in great performance. It’s only the Xiaomi however which has a floating telephoto which has been specifically designed to create good macro images. 

Xiaomi 14 Ultra sample image, macroiPhone 15 Pro Max sample image, macro
Left: The Xiaomi 14 Ultra is superb for macro photography.
Right: The iPhone puts in a less impressive performance for macro, but it’s still quite good fun. Image: Amy Davies

There are two ways to create macros using either phone. You can simply move your phone closer to the subject and the phone will automatically switch to the ultrawide lens. Or, if you want to fill the frame a bit more, you can also switch to the 5x lens. 

In my test, the iPhone puts in a reasonably good performance when shooting with the ultrawide after automatically switching to it, but the Xiaomi’s is noticeably better, being cleaner and brighter. However, I have been extremely impressed by what the Xiaomi is capable of from the telephoto – here it blows the iPhone out of the water, producing an image which I think would be easy to pretend came from a “real” camera. It’s crisp where it needs to be, has plenty of detail, but also has a beautifully blurred background.

Here I have to give top marks to the Xiaomi, if you regularly shoot close-ups, I’d probably say it’s worth buying the Xiaomi for that purpose alone.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Xiaomi 14 Ultra: Portrait

Both of these smartphones are great if you like to take people shots. Both have well-functioning portrait modes, though if you’re using the Xiaomi 14 Ultra, you have the additional functionality of using the Leica “Master Lens System”, which recreates of certain Leica lenses. 

Xiaomi 14 Ultra sample image, portraitiPhone 15 Pro Max sample image, portrait
Left: A portrait shot with the Xiaomi 14 Ultra.
Right: Colours are much warmer with the iPhone 15 Pro Max. Image Amy Davies

With the iPhone, one of the best things I like is the automatic portrait recognition. That means that even if you’re shooting in the normal Photo mode if you’ve photographed a human, cat or dog, you’ll be able to convert it to a blurred background portrait shot after the fact if you like. That’s great if you’re often taking pictures off the cuff of unpredictable subjects, like kids and pets. 

As for the results, both create good portraits, with fairly natural backgrounds, but it’s interesting how different the colours are here in our test setup. With the Xiaomi, the colours are far cooler than the iPhone, making them arguably much closer to reality, but perhaps a little less flattering.  

Xiaomi 14 Ultra sample image selfieiPhone 15 Pro Max sample image, selfie
Left: Selfie taken with the Xiaomi 14 Ultra.
Right: Same subject shot with the iphone 15 Pro Max selfie camera. Image: Amy Davies

The selfie cameras both have AF, and both produce nice results. You can use Portrait mode for both, with again the iPhone giving you the capability to add portrait effects afterwards if you prefer. Again, the Xiaomi has the more accurate colours here, with the iPhone adding some lightness into my hair that doesn’t really exist. If you looked at both of these in isolation you might be pretty pleased with them, but looking at them side by side, the Xiaomi has an overall slightly better result.

We’ve got sort of a draw here, with both producing good results – however as someone who uses the automatic portrait mode very frequently, I’d probably just about give it to the iPhone here for that alone. 

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Xiaomi 14 Ultra: Video

If you like to capture lots of video clips, both phones would make a good purchase. The iPhone 15 Pro Max tops out at 4K recording however, so if you do have a craving for 8K, then you’ll need the Xiaomi 14 Ultra, which allows you to do that at either 24 or 30fps (it also does 4K too).

Both have general video modes, as well as some other options such as “Cinematic” for the iPhone and “Movie” for the Xiaomi. 

If you’re someone who just likes to record the odd video clip to accompany your pictures, then either is going to be fine, but if perhaps you’re a more serious videographer than the 8K might appeal – so we’ll give the edge to Xiaomi here again.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Xiaomi 14 Ultra: Screen and Design

Both of these smartphones are pretty large, with both having a 6.7” screen. The overall sizes of the phones are both reasonably close in size to each other, with the Xiaomi 14 Ultra measuring up at 161.4 x 75.3 x 9.2mm and 219.8g, and the iPhone 15 Pro Max coming in at 159.9 x 76.7 x 8.25mm and 221g. If you’re after a small phone, neither of these devices are going to be for you – but it’s hard to deny these large screens are great for viewing your photos on. 

The iPhone 15 Pro Max (left) next to the Xiaomi 14 Ultra. Image: Amy Davies

If you do want a smaller iPhone, you can opt for the iPhone 15 Pro (6.1” screen), which has most of the same specifications as the Max version, but the telephoto lens is only 3x, rather than 5x. Similarly, you can also get a smaller Xiaomi, in the shape of the Xiaomi 14 (6.3” screen), but here – among other things – you lose the fourth (telephoto) lens.

Size aside, the Xiaomi 14 Ultra has a 3200 x 1440 pixel screen with 3000 nits maximum brightness and a 120Hz refresh rate. This makes it higher resolution and brighter than the iPhone 15 Pro Max which has a 2796 x 1290 pixel screen with 2000 nits maximum brightness (it has the same 120Hz refresh rate). The difference isn’t hugely noticeable in real-world usage though. 

Both are IP68 rated, meaning that they can withstand water and dust exposure. The Xiaomi has “Xiaomi Shield” for the screen, while the iPhone uses a “Ceramic Shield” – it’s hard to say exactly how these two compare, but either way, neither phone has succumbed to scratches while I have been using them.

With a dedicated Macro shooting mode the Xiaomi performs better. Image: Amy Davies

In terms of design, the Xiaomi make some slightly odd aesthetic choices – but it does look a bit more like a “real” camera, with its large ring around the four lenses. The iPhone looks like, well, an iPhone. Some people feel these are aesthetically pleasing – but they’ve been a bit boring for a while now. Look at the pictures and decide for yourself which you prefer the look of.  

Here I’d say it’s a bit of a tie when it comes to design. Both are large, both are high resolution, both have waterproofing. So, it might come down to which you personally feel is the more attractive of the two.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Xiaomi 14 Ultra: Battery life, charging and storage

The Xiaomi 14 Ultra has a 5000mAh battery and boasts both wireless charging and super quick charging (separate chargers will need to be bought, they don’t come in the box). It uses a USB-C connection, as is standard now. Meanwhile, the iPhone 15 Pro Max also fast charging and wireless capabilities – again you will need to buy a charger for that capability. Apple doesn’t disclose the size of its batteries but says that it is rated for 29 hours of video play back, which gives an indication that it’s probably reasonably close in size to the Xiaomi’s.

Either way, in real-world usage, both phones usually easily last a full day, even with reasonably heavy usage and spending a lot of time using the camera. 

Xiaomi 14 Ultra vs iPhone 15 Pro Max. Image: Amy Davies

In terms of storage, the Xiaomi only has a 512GB option, which should be plenty for the average user. For the iPhone, you can go for a lower amount (256GB), or a higher amount (1TB), with price variations accordingly. For most photographers, the 256GB version is likely to be adequate – especially if you make use of cloud storage, but for content creators shooting video, the higher storage might be a better option. 

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Xiaomi 14 Ultra: Price

As there’s only one storage size available for the Xiaomi 14 Ultra, there is also only one price point (£1299). You can get a cheaper iPhone 15 Pro Max as it starts at £1199, but that’s for only 256GB. The comparable 512GB version of the iPhone is £1399, making the Xiaomi cheaper on a like-for-like basis. You can also pick up the 1TB version of the iPhone 15 Pro Max for £1599, if you crave a huge amount of storage.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Xiaomi 14 Ultra: Verdict

So after all that testing, what’s the conclusion? 

It’s safe to say that both these flagship models are excellent for photographers, and despite high prices for both of them, represent good value for money considering the quality you get. 

However, it has to be said that the overall trophy quite probably belongs to the Xiaomi 14 Ultra. It does extremely well in all areas, beating the iPhone in most of them quite easily. There are some caveats depending on what you like to shoot and how you like your images to look. Some might prefer the warmer tones of the iPhone for example, but it’s hard to deny that the Xiaomi keeps very close to accurate. 

XIaomi 14 Ultra and iPhone 15 Pro Max cameras side by side. Image: Amy Davies

If you’re into macro photography, the Xiaomi is nigh-on perfection, while in some low light conditions, the iPhone’s inbuilt night mode seems to perform just a touch better than the Xiaomi’s – so if either one of those things is your bag, then it might sway you in either direction. 

Of course, there will be many who simply prefer the look of one or the other, and many more who prefer using iOS compared to Android (or vice versa). If that’s you, then it’s likely to be hard to push you one way or the other, but if you’re OS agnostic, then certainly don’t dismiss changing sides. 

As for cost – as mentioned, they are both expensive. However, like for like prices for both models when you consider storage makes the Xiaomi better value. That said, when it comes to resale, it’s probably fair to say that an iPhone will almost certainly hold its value better than the Xiaomi, so that’s something to consider too. 

In the end, the answer is – as is so often the case – a solid “it depends”, but, if pushed to make a final decision on which is the best smartphone for photographers, I’d give it to the Xiaomi 14 Ultra.

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